pushed into a work event because I don’t have kids, tickling as team-building, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I’m being pushed into being a team event captain because I don’t have kids

Every year, my company participates in a charity event that includes building a quite complex sculpture out of cans. Last year, as I was a new employee, I got pretty much bullied into being team captain. Basically, it was the most miserable experience, and that’s coming from someone who LOVES taking charge of teams. I spent dozens and dozens of hours making 3D models of this sculpture, hours picking out the cans at the grocery store, and received NO offers of help no matter how often I brought up how stressful this was for me. We ended up winning a prize, but I still would overhear whispers in the office before and after the competition about complaints over if I was doing a good job, etc., which was such a blow. The whole situation was so stressful that I ended up getting shingles … at 24.

Now, the competition is coming up again. I’ve said time and time again I am absolutely not being team captain, but as the only person in the office without a child and who’s not studying for registration exams, I’m already getting bullied into doing this, regardless of me reiterating how stressful and negative the first experience was for me. The older employees are citing kids and the younger employees are citing their licensing exams. Since I have neither of those to use as my excuse as to why I don’t have the time to be captain, it’s already been joked that I’m captain again. How do I stand my ground, knowing by not being captain, I’m placing a HUGE burden on someone else?

You’re not the one placing a huge burden on someone else. Your company is, by choosing to run the project this way. You already put in your time last year; you have zero obligation to do it again this year. Since no one seems to care when you explain how stressful and negative the previous experience was and they only seem to respect outside obligations, I’d come up with an outside obligation that leaves you unable to take this on. You’re dealing with a family situation that’s taking up most of your outside-of-work time, or the vaguer “I have so many commitments in my personal life right now that it won’t be possible,” or so forth.

Also, don’t feel you have to debate this with everyone who brings it up. You don’t have to prove to each individual person that your reasons are good enough; you just need to stand your ground with your manager or whoever else is going to assign the responsibility. And to your manager, it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “I got shingles from doing this last year, so it’s not possible for me to do it again this year. Someone else needs to take a turn.” And if you get any pushback about not having kids, please say icily, “Obviously we can’t make work assignments based on parental status. I put in the work last year, and this year someone else needs to take a turn.”


2. My vacation request was denied, and I’m furious that my coworkers got to take time off then

In March, I submitted a vacation request for July 13-15. My manager denied the request, saying that it was during a “black out” period following our second quarter close. She explained that no one is allowed to take time off during any of the two weeks of a quarter close. I asked if I could appeal to her boss for an exception, with the assurance that I would be happy to work extra hours to clear my workload in advance of the days off. She still denied me, saying that she had to be fair to all of the accountants, reiterating that no one was allowed time off.

On July 15, a coworker pointed out to me that one accountant had been allowed to take 14th and 15th off, while another accountant had been allowed to take the 15th off. I was furious. I emailed my manager the above conversation and copied her two bosses. I said that it had been brought to my attention that two others had been granted vacation time when my request was denied and asked how this was fair. She did not respond to the email, but sent an instant message for me to stop by her office for “just a sec”; I responded that I was not in a constructive mood and I would prefer to wait. I stopped by her office about 4:50 (as I was leaving) but she had apparently already left for the day – computer off, lights out. Am I wrong to be so upset?

I can understand why you’re upset, but I think you were in the wrong to be so aggressive about it. Cc’ing her bosses was pretty out of line. This is really between the two of you, and you hadn’t even talked about it with her yet to discover if there was a reasonable explanation (more on that in a minute). Also, responding to her meeting request by saying that weren’t not in a constructive mood is not great; it’s essentially saying, “I’m having a tantrum.” These aren’t personal relationships; they’re business relationships, and you’re generally expected to pull it together and operate professionally when your boss wants to talk to you.

As for the situation itself: It’s possible that your coworkers were on FMLA leave or had some kind of emergency (granting leave for illness or a personal emergency are very different than granting vacation request during blackout periods). You don’t know yet, and you definitely don’t want to get this pissed off and then discover the person was out because of a death in the family or for crucial medical treatment.


3. We were told to tickle each other aggressively at a team-building event

I’m leaving my current workplace for a lot of reasons related to culture fit and disorganization, but I wanted to tell you about this misstep in hopes you’ll get a laugh out of it!

We had a team-building event recently, which was boring but otherwise unremarkable until it came time to take the group photo. At this point, either the teambuilding leader or someone from our own leadership yelled “tickle each other AGGRESSIVELY!” instead of cheese! For a moment, everything stopped while everyone (presumably) thought, “wait, what?!” and then I got tickled. Probably by the COO, who was directly behind me. I flail wildly when tickled because I hate it, so I ended up yelling “not okay” and trying not to hit anyone by accident until it stopped.

This is a mandatory fun culture, but you bet I’m bringing this up in my exit interview!

What?! Not only tickle each other (inappropriate and boundary-violating), but tickle each other aggressively? What the actual F?

Some people seriously don’t stop to think that there are different rules of behavior for work versus social situations, and this is one of them. (And really, even in social situations, tickling should be an opt-in activity, shouldn’t it?) (Furthermore, what percentage of people actually enjoy being tickled, even by those closest to them? I’m guessing it’s under 10%.) (Okay, I am going to move on from this, lest I explode in an incredible combustion of parentheses and horror.)


4. Did my employee abuse his access to confidential pay information?

I am an HR manager and I recently reviewed one of my HR staff members. He does his work well, although there is room for improvement. I gave him a raise, well above the average, and he countered with an even higher number. There was no way I was going to agree to that number. I wanted to tell him to pound sand, but I told him I had to think about it.

He admitted that the way he came to that number was because he wanted to be closer in pay to another person in the company, who is at his same level but in another department. I feel this is an abuse of the access that he has. I discussed it with my boss, and her feeling is that it’s not an abuse because he has the clearance to view pay information. I’m curious to know what your thoughts are.

On one hand, it’s true that when someone is entrusted with confidential pay information, you need to be able to trust them not to abuse that access to use confidential info to their own advantage. On the other hand, it’s not generally realistic to expect that knowledge not to enter into their thinking at all. Plus, if someone were to use that information to point out legitimate inequities, you don’t want to discourage that.

Assuming there’s a legitimate reason for why his pay is different than his coworker’s (like different market rates for their type of work, or different responsibilities or qualifications), just explain that to him. You might as well see it as an opportunity to provide transparency into something he’s clearly wondering about, which is better than having the disparity gnawing away at him without him having any context for it.